Technology and globalization have radically changed today's business environments. What hasn't changed, however, are the principles of great leadership. One of these timeless leadership principles is to lead by example.
What does "lead by example" mean? In a nutshell, it means behaving in a way that sets an example for others to follow.
When you lead by example you can help strengthen your team by teaching them, through your own actions, how to be a good leader—a leader that others would want to emulate.
Consider how these seven ideas might help you to lead by example.
1. Show your support for the chain of command.
A part of leading by example is acting as a coach for others. Do you coach team leads or managers on how to lead? If so, encourage them to respect the chain of command. Help them understand that if they side-step their boss, they would be sending their direct reports the wrong signal. It may appear as though they don't respect their boss. Even in today's informal work environments, respecting the chain of command is proper business etiquette. It can also prevent inefficiencies that can hurt the flow of work such as keeping the boss out of the information loop by jumping rank.
2. Let your managers manage their own employees.
When you lead by example, you raise your awareness of the unintended messages that your behaviors may send. If you have an issue with an employee, do you sometimes go to the employee directly rather than the employee's manager?
While this is easy to do in today's fast-paced, informal workplaces, it may erode the manager's authority and leave that person at a disadvantage when dealing with their employee. This, too, may send an unintended negative message: It may signal that you don't trust or respect the managers who report to you.
3. Work on yourself.
We lead from the essence of who we are. As a leader, consider how you can be inspiring to your followers.
Working on becoming an inspiring leader can increase your opportunities to motivate and influence others. Seeing you display inspiring characteristics such as empathy and humility can in turn inspire the team to strengthen their own leadership behaviors.
4. Match your actions to your words to lead by example.
Most companies today have values statements. It's easy, however, to forget to live those values on a daily basis.
Let's say one of your company values is quality. What happens on the day when a leader tells people to cut corners, take the shortcuts and just ship to meet a deadline? The message people get is that any discussion of quality is just paying lip service.
Take another example: If your stated values clearly stress the importance of treating everyone with respect, do you expect this behavior from everyone in the company? What happens if you let one of your high performers habitually run roughshod over junior staff members? Other employees may see this and conclude that respect is one of those nice-to-have values posted on the website but that isn't reflected in actual conduct.
When there's a disconnect between what you say and what you actually do, people believe what you do and discount what you say. Trust is built when you think, say and do the same thing. Use the stated values as a compass by which you lead.
5. Demonstrate integrity.
Living with integrity is a bottom-line requirement for anyone who wants to lead by example. Most people behave with integrity and don't set out to deceive. But small slips can easily happen in the course of a busy day.
Let's take a look at two quick examples:
There's an opening for only one summer internship in your company.
Even though fairness is important to you, you end up quietly awarding the coveted spot to your most senior partner's daughter rather than opening it up company-wide for all employees' sons and daughters to apply.
Because you're busy, you don't stop to think about how the rest of the staff might perceive this. They may perceive it as playing favorites.
Not playing by the same rules...
You announce cost-cutting measures and budget restrictions to help the company's financial situation, and all of your managers struggle to find ways to help by cutting costs.
A few days later, employees see that you just ordered an expensive new chair for your office. You may have a valid reason for ordering the chair, but people make decisions about your leadership from what they perceive. You may be sending a tacit signal that you're above the rules.
When you set out to lead by example in order to strengthen your team, it's important to pay attention to perceptions. Perception is often reality in people's mind.
6. Keep your promises.
View all your promises, no matter how small, as an unpaid debt. Following through on all commitments and keeping your word garners you a lot of respect as a leader. Developing a reputation as a promise keeper is an essential part of becoming a leader who wants to lead by example.
What happens when you've said yes to a request, but the unexpected prevents you from keeping your word? Get back to the person as soon as possible to explain why.
It's a basic fact of human nature that we value reliability. Being reliable and keeping your word boosts your credibility and sets the right example for people to follow.
7. Watch your behavior in times of crisis.
It's easy to lead by example when all is going well. But when faced with unexpected obstacles, false starts and surprising turns, all eyes are on the leader. How you behave in times of extraordinary pressure speaks volumes about your ability to lead by example.
A crisis is a prime opportunity to stay grounded and lead by example. Try to maintain your equanimity and act calmly to find solutions. You might want to postpone a key decision to a later time when you're fully rested and away from the immediacy of the situation. Your example can help your team members also act calmly in the midst of the chaos.
Leading a team by example can help build your credibility and garner others' trust and respect. It makes you a leader others want to follow willingly.
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